“With the help of the Holy Spirit, parishes that foster the renewal of Faith and the formation of evangelizers can transform the world.” Living as Missionary Disciples, U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis
Those are some pretty bold words. But our vocation, as baptized members of the Body of Christ, demands boldness! In this same document, we see quoted the urgent plea of Pope St. Paul VI that we “need to have fire in our hearts, words on our lips, prophecy in our outlook,” and to “rediscover the eagerness, the taste and the certainty of the truth that is ours.”
In a bygone era, that high calling was commonly thought to belong only to the ordained clergy or consecrated religious; they were to be the spiritual superheroes. The rest of us mere mortals were just supposed to plod along, keep our heads down and do our best to obey the Ten Commandments. Fortunately, that myth was put to rest by the Second Vatican Council with its proclamation of the “universal call to holiness.”
Now that the bar has been raised, how are we supposed to reach it? Living as Missionary Disciples emphasizes the vital role of the parish. The parish family, led by its spiritual father, the pastor, must be a place not of complacent maintenance, but of ardent mission. It should be buzzing with enthusiasm and devotion, and not just on Sunday. Through their shared life—sacramental and truly familial—the members of the parish should be enabled to witness to others “by a life transfigured by God’s presence.”
The bishops provide some practical guidance in the document on how to achieve this. They propose that the pastor form a “planning leadership team,” to “discuss and visualize what a parish with a mission and vision focused on missionary discipleship would look like and how existing ministries could be changed or strengthened to achieve this vision.” Words like “collaboration” and “co-responsibility” pop up often in Living as Missionary Disciples. Clearly the pastor remains father and leader, but he is not the bearer of a lonely burden.
This model of collaboration has been the focus of a number of recent movements in the Church, such as Amazing Parish (amazingparish.org), which has been bearing wonderful fruit throughout the U.S. and in the Diocese of La Crosse.
At the heart of any such parish initiative, if it is to be successful, is prayer. As the bishops note, fruitfulness “depends first on pastoral leaders’ ongoing conversion and daily personal encounter with Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire and lead all ministries toward witness and discipleship, whether in liturgy, preaching, catechesis and education, administration, or works of mercy focused on the dignity of the human person and care for the poor.”
Another key, in addition to prayer, is a laity well formed in the Faith. For the Diocese of La Crosse, two pathways are especially worthy of mention in this regard. One is the Lay Formation Institute, a two-year program that draws participants closer to Christ and the Church, deepening their knowledge of the Faith in a vibrant community of learners (diolc.org/lay-formation). Another is the Franciscan at Home Online Learning System (franciscanathome.org/diocese-la-crosse), which features an abundance of free online workshops for all parishioners in the diocese for the coming year.
We are called to cooperate with God and one another in a transformation that starts with ourselves and extends outward. Living as Missionary Disciples beautifully summarizes this high calling: “By the work of the Holy Spirit, each baptized person is continually encountering Christ in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as well as in the sacred Scriptures and other people. After reflecting, praying and experiencing a deep conversion and renewed confidence in the Gospel message, a follower of Christ goes outward to evangelize others. The evangelized becomes the evangelizer.”
Director of the Office for Ministries and Social Concerns
Published in the September/October 2021 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine